Five cell towers were opened today as part of the Rural Broadband Initiative, with the government promising the service will ensure users can receive download speeds of up to 5 Mbps.
Speaking at the opening of the Eureka tower built by Vodafone, in Waikato, ICT Minister Amy Adams says she is representing the rural community's ICT issues; especially when it comes to helping rural New Zealanders catch up to their urban counterparts.
"While the cities have made pretty good progress with getting broadband speeds that were slowly improving and picking up, for the rural areas the divide was getting bigger and bigger.
"When you look at New Zealand economy, and you look at where the real centres of growth and productivity are, they are overwhelmingly represented in our rural areas. And yet those same areas are the ones that suffer from very low levels of connectivity."
The RBI is a government funded scheme to bring broadband internet to rural regions. The overall project is expected to bring broadband and cellphone coverage to roughly 300,000 homes around New Zealand. The cellsites opened today were two in Waikato, two in West Auckland, and one in the Tasman Bay.
Last year Vodafone and Chorus (at the time Telecom) won with a joint bid to build the cell sites. Each tower will be available for open access for other service providers to attach their own wireless equipment.
"Access to high-speed broadband makes a significant difference to the lives of rural New Zealanders," says Vodafone CEO, Russell Stanners in a statement.
"For the Waikato, New Zealand's premium dairying region, it will help drive improvements to productivity and business performance."
Stanners says it will not just be farmers who benefit from the RBI. He says the new cell sites will expand the machine-to-machine communication market in New Zealand.
One of the companies showcased at the Eureka site opening creates remote weather monitoring stations, including one which is being used on the Rena shipwreck.
Stanners says the initial download speeds available to customers will be around 5 Mbps, but he expects this to double or triple within the next four years.
Construction has started on five further sites to be completed in the next year. A total of 154 new cell sites will be built, and 387 towers will be upgraded with new equipment and software.